From Plainer Words

The New Testament Canon

Posted in: 2014
By Tom M. Ballinger
Mar 17, 2014 - 4:56:34 PM

Plainer Words since 1968
March 10, 2014
This is a short dissertation of the history of the formation of the 27 books which, over time, became what is now referred to as the New Testament Canon. The history of the process by which the 27 books were brought together and officially recognized as Sacred Scriptures was cumbersome. It took several centuries to finalize.
Early believers had their hands on what they believed to be their Bible—the Old Testament. This was the case for at least one-hundred years after the Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Old Testament was used in Christian instruction.
The Old Testament Scriptures were read in the “churches” throughout “The Acts of the Apostles.” At first, there was no idea of placing the New Books along side the O.T. The New Books didn’t rank with the Old ones in honor or authority. Not only that, but many of the Christians, in those days, didn’t trust the Apostle Paul and, consequently, they could did not readily accept His writings.
Christianity, from the very beginning, had a Book it reverenced, the Old Testament. But, many years passed before it had a Book of its own.
New Testament writers had no idea that what they wrote was a contribution toward forming what would, later, be called “The Bible.” They thought the “end” was near.  Their words were to meet definite needs in the lives of those with whom they were associated. They had no idea of creating a new Sacred Text. The sparse writings of the Apostles were used as guides to oral teaching in the assemblies. The Apostles had no thought of creating a new sacred literature. And, yet, these incidental occasional writings have come to be our choicest Scripture. The circumstances and influences which brought about this result are here, briefly, set forth.
As the Apostles began to die-off, Christians and Christian Teachers began to put a greater emphasis on the texts of the writers who had companied with Jesus, or with Paul who had life-changing experiences by means of Personal Inspiration by the Risen Savior. Their original epistles began to be copied and circulated throughout the local ecclesias. As the years passed, these writings slowly became treasures. The Apostle insisted that his epistles be read in the churches: they should be carried to other assemblies and read.
 “I charge  [horkizo, i.e., solemnly ask or enjoin] you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren” (1 Thess. 5:27).
When Paul wrote this, there were other new epistles in circulation. Paul’s Epistle to the Thessalonians contained aspects of truths the others had not written about; therefore, he was very insistent that it be read by “all the holy brethren.” However, Paul was not hesitant, at all, to say that his words were those of the Lord:
 “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep” (1 Thess. 4:15).
What Paul was saying, in plainer words, was this—By the Lord’s Own word, that we who are alive and remain until the Parousia of the Lord …”
I did not set out to present a detailed history of the forming and putting together of the New Testament. It is to be pointed out that the early Fathers of “The Church” struggled with bits and pieces of Apostolic Letters. Many scribes in different localities were transcribing the bits and pieces into a manuscript, but they did not consider these, at the time, as Scripture, but rather, the words written by the Apostles. Where it was possible, these copies of copies were circulated among the neighboring “churches.” The Apostles, during their life-time, never did seem to consider their writings as “the Word of God;” nor, did they have any idea that what they wrote was a contribution toward forming what we would call “The Bible.”
Believers during the period of “The Acts of the Apostles” thought the Pre-Millennial Kingdom of God was “at hand.” They thought the writings of the Apostles were subordinate to the oral traditions taught by the Apostles and their teachers. The doctrines being taught during “The Acts of the Apostles” were preparing the members of the “Church of God” for the manifestation of “the Times of Refreshing” (Acts 3:19). They were being rooted and grounded in the doctrines of the Apostles, either by their oral traditions or copies of their letters (i.e., epistles). Here is doctrine written by Paul that could be, also, taught as traditional doctrines.
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” (Rom. 8:18-24).
In the context of this composition, the “oral tradition” we have mentioned is in the good sense of the phrase—“oral tradition.” I remember in the early days of my Bible studies, I was so impressed by the word, “traditions,” that I really had a hard time believing what Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 3:6:
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”
“Tradition” is used eleven times in the New Testament. Only once is it used in the good sense of the word, and it is the Verse in 2 Thessalonians 3:6.
At the time Paul wrote this epistle, there was no New Testament. He was unable to say, “Turn in your Bible to my letter in 2 Thessalonians 3:6. Instead, he reminded them to withdraw themselves from those who walked disorderly, not following his precepts of an orderly life.  In plainer words, he was not referring to the Jewish traditionary law, but the oral transmission he made when he was with them. “Tradition” was the Greek word, “paradosis.” The good sense of this word was “apostolic teaching,” according to “Vines Expository Greek-English Dictionary.”
The other ten New Testament references to “tradition” are:
Matt. 15:2 – tradition of the Elders
Matt. 15:3 – tradition of the Pharisees
Matt. 15:6 – tradition of the Pharisees
Mark 7:3 –   tradition of the Elders
Mark 7:5 –   tradition of the Elders
Mark 7:8 –   tradition of men
Mark 7:9 –   tradition of the Pharisees
Mark 7:13 – tradition of the Pharisees
Col. 2:8 –     tradition of men
1 Pet. 1:18 – tradition from your fathers
Tradition, in the sense of the Texas A&M Aggies’ “Twelfth Man Tradition,” is not an ungodly conduct.  It is not passed off as a God-inspired rule that Good Texas Aggies are to be part of the “Twelfth Man.” To be a member is when A&M plays a football  game, there are eleven men on the playing field, and the “Twelfth Man” (as many as 70,000) are the Aggie Fans who are in the stadium, supporting the Eleven Men who are on the field.  The Twelfth Man is an A&M tradition. Tradition, in this sense, was good if you were an Aggie.
At Dr. Henry Grube’s Greystone Bible Church in Mobile, they had an annual tradition. It was their Annual Watermelon Cuttin.’  It was a good tradition. Lots of fellowship and lots of watermelon. It was not anything like the Tradition of the Pharisees.
It is imperative to understand the Biblical use of the words by noting its context. “Tradition” is one of these words.  The Pharisees and the elders in the Jewish economy in Judah taught uninspired man-made decrees, referring to them as “our Law.” It was made-up, or concocted by the Pharisees who claimed it to be divinely inspired and given to Moses on the Mount, and he passed it down orally to Joshua who, in turn, passed it on from generation to generation. The Traditional Law was not written down. By it being unwritten, it could be changed by ecclesiastical agreement. That was the Pharisees’ Oral Law. In the eyes of the Pharisees, it carried as much weight as Moses’ written Law—in some cases, they considered it more highly than the Law of the Torah.
In a previous Plainer Words, I wrote, “The Oral Law was finally placed in writing around the year of 200 A.D. At that time, it was named the “Talmud.”  The Oral Law was seen as an unbroken chain of divine transmissions. It was conveyed by word of mouth and memorized. The written Law of Moses (1st five books of the Bible) was seen by the Pharisees as having many levels of interpretation.  It was left to later generations who were steeped in the oral tradition to discover the ‘hidden’ interpretations not revealed to Moses.”
The Oral Law, the tradition of the Pharisees, was hurled at the Lord Jesus Christ by the Pharisees because He didn’t KEEP IT. In fact, His summation of their Tradition can be found in His condemnation of the Pharisees’ Tradition:
“Thus have ye [Pharisees] made the commandment of God of none effect by your [the Pharisees’] tradition [their Oral Law]” (Matt. 15:6).
“Making the word of God of none effect through your [Pharisees’] tradition [your law], which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye” (Mark 7:13).
During “The Acts of the Apostles” (A.D. 33 to A.D. 63), 20 epistles were in existence which later became part of the New Testament.
“The widely scatted churches had some of the New Testament writings. They were looked upon as treasures; they were honored as containing the Words of Jesus and the teachings of the Apostles. From the first, the authority of Jesus had full recognition. The work of the Apostles was looked upon as interpreting Christ to the growing church. His sayings and life were in part for the illumination of the Old Testament.” (IBSE)
The Hope of the Acts Period Church did not materialize. Much of the “Church World” was in disarray—Signs, Wonders, Miracles, and Gifts of the Holy Spirit were suddenly inoperative. What happened? They wondered and speculated.
The answer to their quandary was to be found in the “Testimony of the Lord’s Prisoner” (2 Tim. 1:8)—the Apostle Paul. He wrote seven books between 63 A.D and 68 A.D. They are referred to as Paul’s Prison Epistles. The biggest mistake in Christian understanding of the Bible is failure to see that a dramatic change in God’s Program took place when “The Acts of the Apostles” ended in the year 63 A. D. The Church of God was divinely adjourned. After the Acts Period closed, the Lord ushered in a new dispensation—the Dispensation of the Grace of God.
The Apostle Paul was chosen to explain the New Dispensation. He did so in what is called his Prison Epistles. Paul explained the truths of the Mystery of Christ in his last seven epistles. He made known a Truth which, in other ages, was not made known to the sons of men as it is now revealed (Eph.4-5); “… even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints” (Col. 1:27).
The seven added epistles completed what became our New Testament with 27 books. It was not officially canonized until about 400 A.D. When historical accounts are read concerning the different councils attended by Ecclesiastical men in which they debated what writings should be included, the Ecclesiastical Councils didn’t seem to have fostered love and understanding. In fact, the rhetoric reported wasn’t, at all, inspiring. The meetings devoted to agreeing on a NT Canon “wasn’t a very pretty picture.” It could be said if we were to have watched the various councils argue or debate, it would be something like watching the making of sausage. I say this in all due respect of the Scriptures. But, the way many of the 2nd and 3rd Century Theologians contended over this issue, it is remarkable how the Lord Providentially over-ruled in these affairs, and we have, today, God’s Word in a single volume.
Closing Comments on the Respect for the Bible
I recall having preached the Word to prisoners in the City and County jails in Mobile, Alabama; I knew the Book I held in my hands was God’s Word. Even the prisoners, most of whom had grown up in the South, respected the Bible as the Word of God.  Never did a prisoner, male or female, black or white, show any disrespect to the Bible or to me, the man who was preaching from It.
There is a lot I like about the Deep South; this is one of the main reasons. I never met a Southerner who showed any antagonism toward the Bible. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure there were some, but I never met one. Even convicts removed their hats when the Bible was opened. The black prisoners were the most vocal with their “Amens” as I preached the Word. When the Amen choruses would ring-out in the cell block of black prisoners, it was like the Halleluiah Chorus to me.
It is funny, in a way, how people who have a grudge against Southerners like to refer to the South as “the Bible Belt.” I always took that as a complement. Gloria and I liked to observe the coffee tables of our Southern friends when we visited them. In most every instance, a Bible would lie upon the coffee table, and it would usually be opened. That was a testimony that spoke louder than words.
When I spoke at Bible Conferences across the country and at the Bible Classes in the Berean Chapel in Mobile, I handled the content of God’s Word with great respect. The Book in my hands or on the pulpit was, without any doubt in my mind, the Word of God.  Only once during a Chapel Service did anyone ever walk out. It was a Christian couple who happened to have wandered in after the teaching had started. Apparently, they couldn’t tolerate the teaching of 2 Timothy 2:15.
The Bible is a powerful Book. It humbles a lot of folks.
Copyright© 2014 by Thomas L. Ballinger
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